When the Record Stops on Musical Goalies

WASHINGTON DC - DECEMBER 09: Semyon Varlamov #1 of the Washington Capitals makes a save against the Florida Panthers at the Verizon Center on December 9 2010 in Washington DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
"It’s not ‘every other’ [game]. It’s ‘if they win they’re in’. It’s just we haven’t won so I haven’t been able to do it." - Bruce Boudreau, during the losing streak, on his desire not to rotate his goalies

If Bruce Boudreau has demonstrated anything in his time in D.C., it's that his favorite goalie is whomever got him his last win; when a Caps netminder has lost, more often than not he has found himself wearing a baseball cap for the next game. And it's hard to blame a coach for that approach, as it's ultimately merit-based, results-driven and fosters competition for the most critical and coveted position on the ice. But is it necessarily what's best for the individual goalies and, by extension the team?

After Michal Neuvirth broke the Caps' eight-game losing streak with a win in Ottawa, Mike Green said that the team needs "a guy who is going to be consistent that [they] can get used to playing in front of." That makes sense, and if you asked any NHL netminder what the key to that consistency is, playing time would almost certainly be among the first responses.

But just how important playing time - or, more specifically, consecutive starts - has been to the Caps' young netminding duo is quite noteworthy. For Neuvirth, he has just a 10-8-2 recod with a 3.07 goals against average and an .897 save percentage in starts in which someone else started the previous game, but a lights-out 15-3-1/2.29/.922 mark when he had gotten the prior Caps start. For Semyon Varlamov, the split is 16-7-6/2.72/.908 and 6-0-2/2.27/.918. Combined, Neuvirth and Varlamov are 26-15-8/2.86/.903 when someone else got the starting call in the previous game, but an absolutely dominant 21-3-3/2.28/.921 line when making consecutive starts.

There are limits, of course, to how many back-to-back starts these goalies should be getting - the stats say that Neuvirth is 4-1-1/2.56/.905 when making a fourth (or greater) start in a row, and the medical reports say that Varlamov's durability doesn't necessarily make such a heavy workload a great idea.

But the bottom line is that it would seem that these two 22-year-olds often take more than a single game in order to get into the proverbial groove, and should be allowed to do so. Even if the performance might not necessarily be outstanding in that first start back... because the data suggests that it will be in the second and third starts.

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